IS IT POSSIBLE TO BECOME AN ATHLETE LATER IN LIFE?
I always teach my students and patients that movement equals life. A healthy body adapts to the stresses put on it, which is why some martial artists can punch through several boards without breaking their hands while others fracture a bone on a slip and fall. Everything works as a continuous mechanism and since bodies tend to recover more slowly as they age, the training loads they can withstand similarly decrease. Other issues such as longterm diet, genetic triggers, toxic buildup, cellular dehydration, age, prior activity levels, history of illness or injury, and neural response all factor in to the outcome. Additionally the type of sport chosen, history of prior training, and one’s commitment level have their own effects. If all of these are aligned properly, there’s always a good chance. If one or more of them is off, then chances grow increasingly doubtful.
For instance, if someone had been an athlete in the past, he is statistically more likely to have established a proper foundation to build from and developed discipline to successfully become a later life athlete. Think of George Forman retaking the Heavyweight Championship of the World at age 45. There’s no doubt that he was able to return to the top level of competition in his middle age. The same George Foreman ten years later, although a force of personality, is not heavyweight material anymore. Conversely, if he’d never built his body and mind into champion shape before, trying to make the push at that age would’ve been nigh impossible. So how competitive of athlete someone wants to be, how much discipline and commitment he’s willing to have, and what kind of athletic base he’s previously developed are all huge factors in successfully transforming into a later life athlete.
But Forman’s case begins as an anomaly and remained one. What if you didn’t have professional level genetics and training at a younger age? An astonishing example of a woman blooming into a late life athlete is found in Ernestine Shepherd. She began bodybuilding at 56 and at 77, is dedicated and active everyday and has achieved a physique that can easily put healthy people in their young 30s to shame. Her results didn’t happen overnight. She completely changed her lifestyle, persevered through setbacks and remained disciplined virtually every single day for over 20 years. This is not only body transformation, but lifestyle transformation at the highest levels. Could she have achieved this level of success without great genetics? Probably not. But staying disciplined with diet, water intake, fitness habits, sleep patterns and daily meditation will greatly improve virtually anyone’s health. Would you say that if Ms. Shepherd had accomplished only 80% of her results that she wouldn’t truly be an athlete? Even if that were the case, she’d still have the physiology of a healthy woman in her late 30s or early 40s and a much improved quality of life.
The majority of professional and olympic athletes have one thing in common: they’re young. They’re competitive to their mid 30s at most (depending on the sport), then quickly find themselves transitioning to other careers due to longer recovery times, mounting injuries and mental fatigue. And burnout for professional athletes is one of the most difficult challenges they face as they reach the age where their bodies don’t perform and recover in the same ways they did in their younger years. Returning from burnout is usually a slow process and after taking a break from athletics, the former pro often becomes depressed when they push their limits and find their bodies won’t keep up with their expectations.
Conversely, someone who is entering athletics at a later age can benefit from never having competed at the highest levels. Each week, they’re able to see progress and gain motivation. Since they don’t see themselves as shadows of their former glory, they’re improving their self-image on a continual basis. The extra pounds come off, muscles begin to show and their energy levels increase, leading to increased motivation to stay committed. They can sign up for competitions and see their results of their hard work improve from one event to the next.
A number of studies show that middle aged and later populations are more likely to make gains when they’re doing something they want to do than being forced for health reasons. Additionally, they’re less likely to suffer heart attacks or become injured, and more likely to maintain their commitment to continuing to exercise. So it boils down to having mental toughness, motivation and not listening to conventional wisdom on aging. If someone wants it badly enough and is willing to put in the time, then yes, they can become a bonafide athlete later in life. It certainly won’t be easy but most good things require effort. And this is one sacrifice where the benefits can easily outweigh the investment.
For the majority of people, improving their diet and sleep patterns, and including brisk walking and doing physical activities throughout the day will be enough to improve their quality of life.
In good health,
President & Ambassador
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